Ten Strategies to Communicate for Better Understanding

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Ten Strategies to Communicate for Better Understanding

Steven Covey once said, “Most people don’t listen with intent to understand; they listen with intent to reply.”

Forty years ago, the father of the field of listening, Dr. Ralph Nichols of the University of Minnesota, posited that people spend 40 percent of our day listening to others, but merely retain 25 percent of what we hear. This is an important fact to note, because most education and training institutions focus on reading and speaking, not listening.

Listening has been a field less learned to this very day.

In 1989, Steven Covey wrote in his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that is important as it would determine the direction of the communication, which is key to a positive outcome. Moreover, by “communicating effectively,” it refers to the ability to understand empathetically.

However, most people tend to listen to respond, instead of to understand. When it occurs, you wouldn’t be able to hear what the other person truly means. On the contrary, you merely selectively hear certain parts of the conversation, thus misunderstandings tend to happen. Covey called this “autobiographical listening.”

The four types of responses that “autobiographical listening” is projected are evaluating, probing, advising, and interpreting.

Whenever you’re responding judgmentally with a “yes-no” or a “like-dislike,” you’re “evaluating” the other person. When you’re asking deeper questions based on your own perspective, you’re “probing.” When you’re giving out advice without being asked, you’re “advising.” When you’re analyzing the other person’s intentions and behaviors, you’re “interpreting.” Train yourself to stop doing these four responses.

Instead, build your effective, empathetic communication skills with these ten strategies. “Empathetic” listening encompasses listening with both mind and heart, which means you acknowledge the emotions involved in the communication and truly feels what the other person is feeling.

Open your ears and eyes.

This type of listening requires you to “listen” with both ears and eyes, so you’re aware of voice and physical clues. Experts in communication agree that only 10 percent of our communication is represented by words, 30 percent by our voice, and 60 percent by our body language.

Remove distractions.

When you truly listen, you don’t need to take notes. An empathetic listener registers the message with their mind and heart. Only when they focus 100 percent on the conversation and the message being conveyed that they can fully understand. Taking notes can be a distraction because you’ll be worrying about transferring what you hear to the notepad.

Don’t judge.

Be open in mind, heart, and body language. Show the other person that you’re unbiased and accepting. This is key for the other person to be truthful and be safe to open up in return.

Don’t analyze.

While you need to be able to “hear” the person’s body language, don’t analyze it. Accept the body language “as is,” so your mind isn’t busy “interpreting” what it means. Your mind should focus on what the person thinks and feels.

Don’t probe.

Don’t ask questions based on your experiences. Let the conversation flows effortlessly from the other person. This way, he or she will feel welcomed and accepted without feeling being “investigated.”

Don’t give advice.

You may give advice when being asked. However, before it happens, focus on the message being conveyed and listen to the tone of voice and the body language to better understand the related emotions.

Don’t interrupt.

When you listen to the other person until he or she finishes, you’re giving yourself an opportunity to truly understand what’s being said and how you should respond intelligently and empathetically. You also provide a safe environment for the other person to convey his or her thoughts and emotions.

Don’t jump into conclusions.

Stay open and encourage the other person to speak freely without feeling being judged, probed, analyzed, and advised. Jumping into a conclusion can also steer the direction of the conversation elsewhere.

Absorb the big picture, not the details.

Listen to the big picture of the communication, not the details. Of course, you can ask about the details later when the other person has done talking. The key is to understand the message with mind and heart.

Paraphrase what you think you’ve understood.

After the other person has finished conversing, take a few seconds of silence to gather your thoughts. Show that you care about the message by paraphrasing the big picture. It confirms that you truly understand the message and the emotions surrounding it.

In conclusion, listening empathetically is key to a better and deeper understanding. By listening with your mind and heart, the message is registered intellectually and emotionally, which creates a holistic picture of the message. We all need to train ourselves in empathetic listening so that we can digest information optimally and effectively. A good leader, after all, is a great listener.

Jose Ruiz serves as Alder Koten’s Chief Executive Officer providing vision, strategic direction and the roadmap for the firm’s future. He is also involved in executive search work focused on board members, CEOs and senior-level executives; and consulting engagements related to leadership and organizational effectiveness helping clients create thriving cultures. An important part of his time is spent on research work focused on organizational effectiveness centered on leadership and culture. Prior to joining Alder Koten, Jose was a Principal with Heidrick & Struggles’ Global Industrial Practice based in Houston, TX and Monterrey, Mexico. His professional experience also includes leadership positions in engineering and operations management for manufacturing organizations in the US and Mexico. This experience includes serving as vice president and general manager at Holley Performance Products. Jose is a bi-weekly contributor at Forbes.com.mx writing about executive leadership and career development. Jose holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and electrical engineering from the Instituto Technologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey. He is fluent in English and Spanish.

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